Smart Specialization: Education Meets Automotive

By Lambert van Nistelrooij, Member of the European Parliament
Spring 2013

The EU 2020 Agenda for Europe is to result in a smarter and greener Europe that creates jobs. Europe performs well in fundamental and applied research. Yet the challenge is to get beyond the crisis and make focused investments. Europe has to be more successful in converting its knowledge into growth and jobs. Europe must deliver top performances. The new buzzword in this regard is 'Smart Specialisation'. What is it and why is it so important? How do we accomplish this? I would like to present the smart specialization principle by way of an example: the AutomotiveCampusNL. A unique hotspot in Helmond, the Netherlands, where companies, knowledge institutes and government bundle their activities for sustainable transport. Electric Vehicle Technology has become one of the most important topics at the Campus and is one of the smart specializations of the region.

The Campus in itself is a home for companies, education institutes as well as public and private research centres and test facilities in the field of automotive technology and smart mobility. It offers a challenging and inspiring ecosystem where knowledge and business come together. Residents conduct research, development, designing, modelling, engineering, testing and assembly of vehicle and systems technology here. AutomotiveCampusNL accommodates numerous test and expertise centres for among others crash testing, active safety and handling, advanced driver assistance, power train testing, emission and performance measurement and wind tunnel testing. In 2013, an Automotive Facilities Brainport (AFB) Center will be set up at the Campus. This will offer an electric vehicle and battery centre, driving guidance centre, manufacturing process unit, educational test facilities and an incubator and accelerator centre.

At the AutomotiveCampusNL, attention is paid on hybrid and electric vehicles. Electrification is the future solution for increasing vehicle energy efficiency and thereby sustainability. Electric driving is nowadays established as the new kid on the block in transport. Discussions about global warming, increasing prices of fossil fuels and charging stations are rapidly speeding up the penetration of sustainable and energy efficient forms of transportation worldwide. However there is a lot to explore and optimize in electric and hybrid vehicles. A new facility is already launched in Helmond: European Electric Mobility Centre (EEMC). This facility centre offers a worldwide unique combination of facilities, expertise and services for the hybrid and electric vehicle related industry. This portfolio stretches out over all product development stages, for heavy and light duty vehicles, on battery, power train and vehicle level. Hybrid and electric vehicles cover all kind of applications, from passenger cars to heavy-duty commercial vehicles, niche and in between. The EEMC has internationally acknowledged expertise in the field of vehicle safety in combination with vehicle performance and the corresponding certification. At the Campus there is also a possibility to a full-scale crash testing in a crash lab accredited for homologation against worldwide standards.

AutomotiveCampusNL aims to provide a context-rich learning environment for automotive students. Annexes of automotive education institutes on all different levels (vocational, bachelor and university of applied sciences) have already been established on the Campus, which strongly supports vertical integration of the different education levels. For example, some students worked together in the EEMC on different projects. Students can start their automotive education on a medium level and flawlessly continue until they have reached their PhD.

The combination of education, student presence, opportunities for on-the-job training, knowledge exchange and specific enabling projects within the Campus innovation programme ensures a high quality automotive curriculum that radiates continuity and confidence. Education meets automotive on the Campus.

Is it still possible to create regional initiatives in Europe? EU 'Silicon Valleys'? I believe so; the European Parliament believes so. Greater collaboration between regions, companies and knowledge institutes is key for achieving that goal. Regions will determine the areas in which they clusters as these are the ones who have a major role in assisting regions will have the opportunity to eventually attain excellence. Through its revised architecture, strategic programming and delivery mechanisms the cohesion policy for 2014-2020 creates a more balanced Europe and directly enhances the regional investments. The dictum is 'use it, or lose it!' More innovation improves future levels of competitiveness, creates new jobs and enables us to maintain our prosperity.